Can you see clearly now?
What exactly is the "ClearViewer"?
It's a folding, high-diopter glass-lens viewer for the camera's LCD screen, which easily folds flat against the screen, swings down out of the way if you want to use the screen by itself, or can be easily removed with the single screw in the tripod socket. The hotshoe version is similar, but does not fold flat against the LCD, and is just removed when not used.
Should I wear my reading glasses to use the ClearViewer?
Reading glasses, even for people who normally need them for close vision, should not be necessary. If you happen to have them on when you take your photo, there may be no problem seeing the screen; the lens is also designed so it can be nudged a little closer to the screen if necessary, but for normal vision without reading glasses it shouldn't be necessary.
Questions and answers
If there's no hood, how is it going to help in bright sun?
With your eye less than 2 inches (50mm) away from the camera, much of the ambient light is already blocked, or outside of your field of view. If glare enters from the side, it's easily blocked with your hand. Your eye sees only the screen, and it adjusts itself to that light.
The two photos on the right were taken seconds apart, with no change in exposure compensation. Notice that in the top photo, with the background affecting the camera (as it does your eye), the screen looks very dark. Simply moving the second camera closer, in the bottom photo, fills the field of view with the LCD screen, so it exposes properly and you can see the image.
What kind of lens is used?
The basic lens is a single element, convex glass lens, mounted in a plastic frame, that does what it's supposed to do. It's not fancy, as it's simply for the purpose of getting a good view of the screen. The idea behind this device is to create a simple, effective, inexpensive solution for the problem of not having a viewfinder. An LCD screen, being composed of many dots, only has limited resolution anyway, so there's no point in using pricey optics for a simple task.
When you stand back from the LCD screen, your eye takes in the bright background and its "exposure" is affected (top left photo). No LCD screen can compete with the bright sun. But move in close, and your eye is only taking in the view of the screen; it doesn't need to compensate for the bright sun, and consequently you can see the screen more clearly.
And, since you're less than 2" away from that screen, you see detail that allows you to manually focus, or see if a facial expression is the one you want. Since you're viewing with your eye right at the lens, technically the view is not "magnified", but you are simply "up close" and can clearly see all the detail the screen can provide.
What are its limitations?
The original standard lens for the ClearViewer gives a sharp view of most of the LCD screen, but with today's larger 3" LCD's, the angle of view through the glass causes the corners and outer edges to lose sharpness and viewability. For 2.5" and smaller LCD's, this is generally not a problem, but for larger ones, the new premium lens is a good choice, and doesn't cost much more to give you a good sharp view of the whole screen. See our news page for news about the premium lens option.
Viewing a large LCD from only 2" away fills your field of view with the screen, and you may have to move your eye around a bit for viewing the outer edges. For eyeglass wearers, having your eye a little farther back from the lens may require you to shift the eye position a bit to see those edges.
The viewer adds about 1/4" (6.5mm) to the thickness of the camera, and the same amount to the bottom. So if your case is a tight fit, you may not be able to use it without removing the viewer. But cases are cheap, and I think once you try this device you'll be so happy with its usefulness that you won't mind a bit.
There are also some situations where you just plain don't need it. Candid shooting may require you to be quick, or just shoot from the hip, without worrying about detail. You can shoot with the ClearViewer still folded, swing it down out of the way, or it's easily removable. When you're in those situations it won't interfere with quick "composition doesn't matter" candid shooting.
How Practical is it, really?
I've been using the many incarnations of this device since early 2009, on all types of compact models. Because I've found it to be so useful, it always goes with me, staying on the camera. On photo journeys to Yosemite National Park, or shooting documentary and publicity photos for a 3-day music festival, and on family vacations, it's been put through real-life tests for usefulness, and I find it indispensable. I've used it on about 95% of photos taken with compacts, and it's enabled me to use the camera in situations where I'd normally have to grab my larger camera that has a viewfinder built in. Not just for bright sun, and never mind finding your glasses to see the LCD.
Though it surprised even me, at times I've switched from using my Lumix GH2 with its well-respected electronic viewfinder, to my ClearViewer-equipped Panasonic LX5 or 7, so I could see better (the large view of the screen can be easier to see than a tiny electronic viewfinder screen).
When you're distant from the camera - subject is small and hard to see in the screen.
Move closer, where background light doesn't affect your eyes, and you can see your subject